Joint operation takes down Bulgarian organised crime network affecting European electronic payments

22 May 2014
Press Release
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The Hague, the Netherlands

Bulgarian and French judicial and law enforcement authorities, working in close cooperation with the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol and Eurojust in The Hague, have smashed another significant Bulgarian organised crime network suspected of a variety of crimes including electronic payment and document fraud, currency counterfeiting and drugs trafficking.

The action day for Operation Echo on 20 May 2014 resulted in 11 arrests (4 European Arrest Warrants (EAWs)) and 29 house searches in Bulgaria. Coordinated action mainly took place in the three Bulgarian cities of Silistra, Varna and Razgrad.

The operation was led by Bulgarian authorities via a command coordination centre in Silistra. Europol EC3 experts were present with a mobile office, allowing direct access to Europol's databases for cross-checking, analysing and exchanging intelligence in real time. EC3 officers also provided tailor-made expertise on the spot.

Three complex production sites of skimming equipment were discovered and dismantled in Varna during the raids, where quantities of micro camera bars, card readers, pieces of electronics and plastic cards ready to be encoded were seized.

Complete equipment to produce counterfeit bank cards was also seized, which included magnetic strip readers and writers, computers, phones and flash drives. Police officers also confiscated dozens of forged payment cards with records of PIN numbers, ready to be used at other ATMs. All raids and arrests took place simultaneously and were coordinated from the command centre set up in Silistra Regional SANS1 headquarters.

The primary modus operandi of the criminals and their associates was to harvest financial data from ATMs in different areas of France (e.g. Nancy, Metz, and Lyon) as well as other EU countries, which they then used to create fake payment cards. The fake cards could then be used to withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs outside the European Union (e.g. in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia).

"Crime is conducted more and more online and its character is increasingly transnational. This operation against payment fraud shows the international scale of organised crime, which affects citizens, businesses and our collective security. It also shows the effective and ever increasing cooperation among the international law enforcement community and their effective response to the evolving threats of organised crime", said Europol's Director Rob Wainwright.

Information for editors:

Operation Echo brought together three separate cases, connected through different suspects, and investigated by France and Bulgaria. Following the establishment of a joint investigation team (JIT) between the two countries at the start of 2013, operational and coordination meetings were held together with Eurojust and Europol. In addition, Europol supported the investigation with operational analysis from the early stages, while Eurojust provided legal advice, funding and essential logistical equipment.